The whole day was stormy (Fri 12/01/07), rain and 60 mph winds. I was glued to the radio to hear if it was all going to be off or not. It was strangely exciting: a big disappointment or an extraordinary evening?
During the weather meeting which was deciding it all, I went out to the local supermarket. It was liking stepping out of your door straight into a club, The Scissor Sisters were blasting out on the huge sound system they had installed in front of the castle. It was still raining, but the wind had dropped, so we could still hope …
An hour later we were in the crowd on the west bank of the River Ness. There were thousands of us, too many to count. The castle was lit in a faint green light, the building at the corner of Bank Street on the bridge facing us sported a podium with a microphone, and another bigger podium had been installed lower down, in front of the castle. Two giant LCD screens dominated the scene
When we arrived there was a slideshow of photos of the Highlands and Islands on the screens. The rain had stopped and the weather was fine for a January night in Inverness. No-one knew what was about to happen – would we see the much-trailed fireworks? We guessed that we’d be treated to the pipes and some fiddling and a speech or two, but we didn’t know too much else…
Then, at last, a woman started talking to us about Scotland’s Year of Highland and Island Culture. She went on for about ten minutes in two languages, Gaelic and English, and eventually introduced the Inverness Gaelic Choir. Twenty or so hardy souls were onstage with the obligatory kilts and tartan scarves. It was cold, but they sung beautifully a fine, sad Gaelic song. A lament from Raasay. It was a good start to the evening, maybe a bit sad, but lovely.
Next came the Massed Pipes and Drums of the Highlands on the terrace above Fox’s. An impressive spectacle. It might have been better if they’d marched onto the bridge or something, but it was the real Scottish deal, a real must on such a night. For an assembly of different bands it was a very slick performance.
Some more patter from the bilingual lady – the pace was a little languid. Then Blazin’ Fiddles, a supergroup of fiddlers with a guitar behind them, continued the high energy of the evening. They came from across the Highlands and Islands, from the West Coast to Shetland. The most blazin’ fiddler in a blazin’ bunch was Bruce MacGregor, in front of his fellow citizens, slicing out reels like a demon. Real local heroes.
Scotland’s First Minister, Jack McConnell, gave the official Opening Speech. Apparently, the year of culture was his idea. His speech, which ticked all the content boxes, was completely lacking in inspiration from him and didn’t inspire anyone around, but he did what he had to without falling out with anyone.
The festival duly opened, we had a fairly average bit of video on the screens with a voice-over from our bilingual friend, explaining the themes and logo of the Festival. More impressive was the illumination of the church buildings on the riverside in the festival colours.
Then the fireworks. One word – superb! Even the castle looked lovely for a few moments! It was a traditional show, but well and plentifully done, and it had two jabs of surprise. When we were all staring at the sky, awaiting the next pyrotechnic phase, a fleet of white lanterns passed in front of us floating downriver. Once we’d forgotten that they did it again with red ones. It was a really well planned surprise, using the geography of the city to amaze us.
At the end of the launch, we were all invited, in our thousands, to the Monster Street Party, named in Nessie’s honour, and a last coup de theatre awaited us. Three huge monsters came into the crowd and met on the bridge to lead us to the street party. What a great night! There were loads of people smiling – unheard of in Inverness in January!
Webcam link on the official site: http://www.highland2007.com
Photos to follow